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How to Spot and Protect Yourself and Others from Elder Financial Abuse

Financial fraud against the elderly can range from the misuse or stealing of funds or assets by a trusted family member or friend — to phone scams designed to get personal information or payments for bogus products or services. Learn how to identify elder financial abuse to protect yourself and others.

The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA)1 defines financial exploitation as a form of abuse perpetrated against seniors and aging older adults who are disabled and/or experiencing cognitive decline. Exploitation can be described as a violation of trust by a close individual or a scam intended to steal money and private information. It could look like a family member mishandling funds and assets, phone scams, social security scams, prescription drugs scams or fraudulent impersonation of a professional advisor (like a lawyer, lender or banker).

NAPSA calls this exploitation “widespread, expensive, even deadly” and cites these alarming stats reported by Adult Protective Services programs:1

  • One in nine seniors reports abuse, neglect or exploitation within the past 12 months.
  • Abused seniors are three times more likely to die and elder abuse victims are four times more likely to move into a nursing home.
  • 90% of abusers are family members or trusted people.

If you or someone you know is approaching their senior years, it’s important to know how to protect yourself against financial elder abuse and fraud. Here’s what you need to know, whether you’re trying to protect yourself or a loved one.

4 Types of Scams

Deceptive Family Members or Caregivers

It’s hard to imagine, but deceptive family members can get close to your finances and rob you! Tactics include:

  • Victim gives permission for a trusted family member to handle personal finances through the misuse of a Power of Attorney.
  • Family member and victim combine bank accounts, so funds are easily accessible.
  • Caregiver sneaks around to take ATM cards and checks to withdraw cash, steals cash or abuses credit cards.
  • A perpetrator uses threats and intimidation to get what they want.
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Protection Tip: Try to monitor your finances and keep an eye on family members or caregivers who take a strong interest in your financial information. Another red flag is if a family member insists on bringing you to your credit union to withdraw cash for one reason or another; speak with a financial advisor or bank teller if you’re questioning someone’s motives.

Phone Call Con Artists & Robocalls

Since the elderly are commonly socially isolated and alone, it’s easy for con artists to target victims through a phone scam. A senior is more likely to answer and listen to the fraudster’s message that could be:

  • Requests for personal information like bank account or Social Security numbers by imposters like fake Medicare representatives, for example; reverse mortgage scams are also common
  • Urgent requests to send money to a relative who’s in trouble or sick and in need of money
  • Alerting a victim they’ve won a sweepstakes and they’re required to pay a fee to receive the prize
  • Warnings about a financial problem by a scammer disguised as a banker or lender in need of your info to access your account
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Protection Tip: High-pressure requests asking for an urgent response is a tip-off. Never give out sensitive information! If you’re unsure if someone’s legitimate, hang up and call the organization directly, such as your credit card company or financial institution. Also, be aware of telemarketing calls with too-good-to-be-true offers like a free gift or limited-time product deals on vitamins or medical equipment, for example.

Social Security Administration Scams

In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned that social security scams were the number one reported scam. There were about 73,000 reports and $17 million in losses.2 The FTC warns that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will never call to:

  • Threaten your benefits; threaten to arrest you or take legal action
  • Gather personal info if you’d like to sign up for new and better benefits or free services
  • Suspend your number or account because of suspicious or criminal activity
  • Ask you to wire money, send cash or send a gift card to pay a fine
  • Ask for your social security number
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Protection Tip: If you receive a legitimate-sounding or intimidating call, don’t panic and rush to act. Remember the SSA (and IRS) will never call you. Instead, you will receive an official letter in the mail.3 Also, never click on a link in an email for any reason. Visit oig.ssa.gov/scam to learn more or oig.ssa.gov to report the scam.

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs & Scams

For older adults, medication is a major expense, which is why scammers get into the lucrative online business of selling fake prescription drugs. Not only can targets lose money, but they’re at serious risk for taking unsafe and dangerous substances. Imposter drug suppliers or unlicensed distributors may:

  • Bill you for larger quantities or brand-name drugs
  • Dispense drugs without requiring a prescription
  • Offer medication at a low discount for a fee
  • Sell you unusual miracle cures, treatments or remedies
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Protection Tip: Pay attention to anything that appears suspect like strange packaging or medication that looks or tastes unfamiliar. Always consult your physician or pharmacist about anything suspicious, especially if you’re experiencing unusual side effects. If you’re traveling outside of the country, make sure you bring enough medication so you’re not desperate for refills. Lastly, only work with reputable online pharmacies approved as a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

If you suspect you’ve been a target of fraud, contact your state’s Adult Protective Services. You can also notify law enforcement, make a complaint to the FTC, speak with your financial institution and register for the National Do Not Call Registry.

2 https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/09/social-security-not-trying-take-your-benefits

The material presented here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be used as financial, investment, or legal advice.